Translated from the Russian by Alex Cigale 



Before each word I place a question: what does it mean; also before each word I place the indicator of its tense. Where is dear Masha and where are her wretched arms, eyes, and the other parts? Where is she walking, murdered or alive? My powerlessness. Whose? Mine. What? Powerlessness. I am alone like a candle. I am seven minutes past four alone 8 minutes past four, like a candle nine minutes past four, 10 minutes past four. The moment, so to speak, had not existed. Four o’clock also. The windows also. Yet everything is the same. 



1. Time and Death

More than once I sensed and understood, or didn’t understand, death. Here are three instances that left a definite impression on me.

1. I smelled ether in the bathroom. Suddenly everything changed. In place of the door, where the exit had been, appeared a fourth wall and on it hung the body of my mother. I remembered that my own death had been foretold to take place in exactly this manner. At no time had anyone actually predicted my death. But such mystery is possible in the moment of death. It is possible because death is the cessation of time.

2. In prison I saw a dream. A small courtyard, a square, a squad of soldiers are preparing to hang someone, it seems a black man. I experience a powerful fear, a terror and despair. I ran. And as I was running along a road I understood that I had nowhere to run to. Because time runs along with me and stands together with the condemned. And if we are to imagine its expanse, it would be as a single chair upon which both he and I simultaneously sit. I will later get up and walk on, but he will not. Still, both of us had sat in the same chair.

3. Again a dream. I was walking with my father, and either he said to me or I suddenly understood that today, in an hour, an hour and a half, I would be hung. I understood; I sensed this stoppage as something absolutely real that had finally happened. It is not just occurring. It is a tiny bellybutton, the shadow of a leaf. It is a skating over a surface.

2. Simple things

Let us think about simple things. A person says: tomorrow, today, evening, Thursday, month, year, during the week. In the day, we count the hours. We refer to their accumulation. Earlier we had noticed only a half-day’s passage; now we note the movement within the 24 hours. But when the next 24 arrive, we then begin to count off hours anew. In all honesty, we do add a one to the number of dates. But 30 or 31 days pass, and this quantity transforms into quality and ceases to grow. The name of the month changes. When it comes to years we do behave more conscientiously. But the accumulation of time is distinct from any other aggregation. One can’t compare three lived months with three newly sprouted trees. The trees are present and dimly glimmer with their leaves. About months we cannot with certainty say any such thing. The names of minutes, seconds, hours, days, weeks, and months distract us even from our superficial understanding of time. All these names are analogical, either to objects or to our understanding and measurement of space. For this reason, the lived week lies before us like a slain deer. And this would indeed be so if only time assisted in the counting of space, if it were a twin accounting ledger. If time were a mirror reflection of objects. But in reality, objects are a very poor mirror reflection of time. There are no objects. Go ahead and take them up. If we were to erase the numbers on the clock face, if we were to forget the false names, then time might possibly want to show us its quiet trunk, raise itself up to its full height. Let the mouse scramble across a rock. Count only its every step. But you must forget the word “every,” forget the word “step.” Then its every movement will appear as a new motion. Then, as you in all fairness lose the comprehension of the sequence of movements as something whole, which you had mistakenly referred to as a step (you had been confusing motion and time with space, you had falsely summed them up one on top of the other,) then your perception of motion will become divided, it will become almost null. A flickering will set in. The mouse will begin to flicker. Look back: the world flickers (like the mouse).

3. Verbs

Verbs in our understanding exist as though independently. This is as when swords and rifles are gathered in a heap. When we are going somewhere we take up into our hands the verb “walk.” Verbs among us are triadic. They possess time. They have a past, a present, and a future. They are mobile. They flow, they resemble something genuinely existing. Simultaneously, there isn’t a single action which might have weight, besides murder, suicide, hanging, and poisoning. I would note that only the final hour or two before death can

truthfully be called an hour. It is something that is whole, something stilled, as though a space, a world, a room or a garden, having been freed of time. These are palpable. Suicides and the murdered, you had such a second, though not an hour, right? Yes, a second, maybe two, maybe three, but not an hour, they reply. But these were solid and unalterable? Right, right.

Verbs in our eyes live out their appointed century. In art, plot and action disappear. Those actions that exist in my poems are illogical and useless; they can no longer be called actions. About the person who before had worn a hat and went out into the street we would say: he went out into the street. This was senseless. The word “went” is an incomprehensible word. Now we say: he put on a hat and it began to get light and the (blue) sky flew up like an eagle.

Events do not correspond to time. Time consumed the events. There is not a bone of them left.

4. Objects

Our houses do not contain time. Our woods do not contain time. Perhaps mankind had instinctively sensed the flimsiness, just even for a moment, of the objective solidity that enfolds a material thing. Even the actual, that actual time that had been long familiar to us, does not exist nor has it been endowed upon the object. It emerges that houses and sky and the woods, even more so than that which is actual, do not exist.

When a lone human being lived within his own nail he became saddened and cried and moaned. But somehow he noticed that there is no yesterday, there is no tomorrow, there is only today. And having lived through the present day he said: now there is something to talk about. This present day I do not possess; it doesn’t exist for one who lives in his head, who races around like a madman, who drinks and eats, who floats on a raft, who sleeps on the grave of his friend. We all have identical events. We have something to talk about.

And so he began to observe the world’s borders, and in the walls of time’s container he thought he saw God.

5. Animals

The dawn brightens above the garden. The forest awakes. And in the forest, on the tree, on a bough, awakens a bird and begins to warble about the stars, which she saw in her dreams, and to knock with her beak on the silver heads of her fledglings. And the lion, and wolf, and ferret discontentedly and sleepily lick their silver offspring. It, the forest, reminds us of a drawer, filled with silver spoons and forks. Or or or we look and see flowing a sky-blue, due to its irrepressibility, river. In the river flit fish with their own fingerlings. They look upon the shinning water with their god-like eyes and fish for arrogant worms. Does the night await them, does the day? The bug considers happiness. The water beetle longs. Animals do not use alcohol. Beasts feel absence without resorting to narcotic substances. They are subject to animal decomposition. Animals, time sits above you. Time thinks about you, as does God. 

Animals, you are church bells. The auditory face of the female fox looks out upon her forest. The trees stand confidently like periods, like the quiet frost. But let us leave the forest in peace; we will understand nothing in the forest. Nature fades like the night. Let us go to sleep. We are quite overcast.

6. Periods and the seventh hour

When we lie down to sleep we think, we speak, we write: a day has passed. And for the next day we do not search out the day passed. But until we lie down, we relate to the day as though it had not yet passed, as though it still exists, as though the day is a road on which we trudged, walked to the end, exhausted. But, if we wished, we could walk it backward. All our division of time, all our artwork, relates to time in this way, as though indifferently, whether it occurred, was occurring, or would occur. I sensed time and for the first time failed to understand it in prison. I always considered that, at the most, five days ahead are the same as five days behind, it is as a room in which you stand in the middle of and a dog is looking at you through the window. You wanted to turn, and saw a door, but no—you saw a window. But if the room contains four smooth walls, then the most you will see is death upon one of the walls. I had thought that in prison I would experience time. I wanted to propose, and even did propose to my cell mate, to attempt to precisely repeat the previous day; in prison everything compels this; there were no events. But there, there was time. Punishment I also perceived as time. Periods fly around the world; these are points in time. They alight on a leaf, they descend upon foreheads, they entertain the bugs. He who dies at eighty, and at ten, each has but one second of death. There is nothing else they possess. Butterflies that live but a day are as century-old hounds before us. The difference is only that the eighty-year-old has no future, and a 10-year- old does. But even this is not true, because the future splinters. Because before another second can be added, the older one disappears; this may be represented 
as:

                               Ø  Ø  Ø  Ø  Ø  Ø
                                  Ø   Ø  Ø   Ø  О 

Only the zeros must not be crossed out but erased. But such a future momentary second belongs to both, or to neither; it cannot and could never be, because they are dying. Our calendar is structured in such a way that we do not sense the novelty of each second. But in prison, this newness of every second, and at the same time the insignificance of this novelty, became apparent. I cannot now understand if there would have been any difference had I been freed two days earlier or later. It becomes incomprehensible, what earlier and later mean; everything becomes incomprehensible. And meanwhile, the cocks crow every night. But memory is an unreliable thing; eyewitnesses become confused and err.... In a single night, 3 o’clock cannot occur twice. The person lying down has been killed – whether he was killed a minute ago or whether he will be killed the day after tomorrow. Imagination is imprecise. Even every hour, if not each minute, must receive its own number; with each consequent addition or diminution. Let’s say we have the seventh hour and let it last. To begin with, we ought to at least cancel days, weeks, and months. Then the cocks would crow at different times, and the equivalence of durations would not exist, because that which exists is incomparable to that which already doesn’t, and which itself may not exist. By what evidence do we know? We can not see the points in time; upon everything descends the seventh hour.

7. The sad remains of events
Everything dissolves into the last mortal parts. Time digests the world. I do not

under.... ---------------------------------------

The rumbling in the stomach at the moment of confessing love

This interests me: when I am confessing my love to a fresh new woman, then I almost always, or more truthfully often, get a rumble in my stomach or a stuffy nose. When this happens, I consider it to be a good omen. It means everything will turn out successfully. It is important, when the rumbling begins, to simultaneously cough. To sigh, I think, one ought not to, or the rumble will become audible and reach her ears. A clogged up nose also, as it happens, emits characteristic sounds. I suppose this is due to worry. And what does this worry consist in? The sexual act, or something of its sort, is an event. An event is something new to us, otherworldly. It is of two worlds. When we enter it, it is as though we enter infinity. But we quickly rush out of it. We consequently experience the event as life. And its end—as death. After its end everything is again in order; there is neither life nor death. This means that the worry before the event and, as its result, the rumblings in the stomach and the stuffiness in the nose constitute our nervousness before the promise of life. There is something else partially responsible here. Yes, the thing is that there is here with you also a participant, a woman. There are two of you here. 

Otherwise, besides this episode, you are always alone. In essence, here you are also alone, but it seems to me in this moment, or rather before the moment, that there are two. It seems as though you will never die with a woman, that she possesses eternal life.

Catching syphilis, the amputation of a leg, extraction of teeth

Why am I so afraid of coming down with syphilis, or to have a tooth extracted? Besides the pain and the un-pleasantries, there is also this. First of all, this introduces into life a numerical series. From this point the countdown begins. This is a more terrifying countdown than that which begins from your birth. That one you do not remember; that is, everyone does not sense the terror of it and most even celebrate it (birthdays and anniversaries). Similarly terrifying for me was my arrival at the D.P.Z.* And secondly, what else is regrettable, is that this was something absolutely final and singular, that is real and that has taken place. And this in my understanding also becomes a date. This may be represented by the number one. And one, it seems to me, is the whole life of a human being from beginning to end, and normally this one aught to be felt only in the last moment. But here it suddenly enters the very stream of life. This is an entirely irrevocable misfortune. A pulled tooth. Here is the convergence of external events with time. You sit down in a chair. And while he is sterilizing the pliers, and then reaches for them, time, time, time begins to descend over you and hits you suddenly as the impending event bursts upon you filled with its extraneous contents. And the tooth disappears.

All this terrifies me. What comes to mind is the word never. ---------------------------------------

Everything that I attempt to write here about time is, strictly speaking, untrue. The reasons for this are twofold. 1) Every person, who to some degree does not understand time, and in having just not understood it understood it a bit, must cease to understand all of existence. 2) Our human logic and our language do not correspond to time in any, neither elementary nor complex, sense. Our logic and our language slip along the surface of time.

Nevertheless, perhaps something may be attempted, if not in writing about time, or the incomprehension of time, then in at least trying to establish those particular circumstances of our superficial perception of time, and on the basis of these what may become clear to us is a path toward death and into that wider incomprehension.

---------------------------------------

Is it possible to answer this [the problem of time] through art? Unfortunately, it is subjective. Poetry only produces verbal magic, not actual. And so the means for reconstructing the world are unknown. I broke with understanding, with premised generalizations, something no one had done before me. With this I, so to speak, conducted a poetic critique of reason—a more fundamental one than that other, abstract one. I became skeptical that, for example, house, villa, and tower are connected and unified by our understanding of “building.” Perhaps shoulder should be connected to four. I carried this out in practice, in poetry, so as to prove it. And I became convinced of the falsity of established connections, but cannot say what the new ones ought to be. I don’t even know if there must be one system of relations or there are many. And I am left with a core sensation of the world’s disconnectedness and of the splintering of time. And, as much as this contradicts reason, it means that the world is insensible to reason.

<1932-1933>

*D.P.Z.: dom predvaritel’novo zaklyuchenya; “house of preventive detention.” 





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